Ronnie Milsap’s impassioned vocals and exciting acting skills have made him a favorite concert attraction for over 4 years. His mastery of country, country pop, rock, rhythm and blues, funk, pop and classical has made the singer-keyboard player a formidable entertainer who defies narrow categories.
Still, he’s one of the most successful artists in the country, winning 6 Grammys for Best Country Boy Performance, 4 CMA Awards, and 35 hits. A paragon of country pop in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the energetic, versatile performer continued to find success in the youth-driven country boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s. As of 2014, Milsap has seven albums certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Greatest Hits Volume 2 is platinum and Greatest Hits is double platinum.
He was born into an Appalachian family named Millsaps and lived with his grandparents at the age of one. According to his 1990 autobiography, “Almost Like a Song,” his mother saw his blindness as God’s punishment and asked his father to take Ronnie away. At the age of six, he attended a state school for the blind in Raleigh, North Carolina, listening to gospel music in church and country music on the radio. Despite his harsh treatment, he flourished musically, learning classical techniques from school while absorbing popular styles from the radio.
After graduating in 1962, Millsap studied music at Young Harris Junior College (he graduated in 1964) and released his debut single “Total Disaster” on Atlanta Princess Records in 1963. He chose music over law school, and by 1965 he was recording R&B-tinged pop for New York’s famed Scepter label; that year he had a small hit with “Never Had It So Good.”
After moving to Memphis in 1968, he went to Chips Moman’s sizzling U.S. studio, and played piano and sang in Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain” (1970) at “Jumping Nightclub – TJ’s.” Recorded briefly for Moman’s Chips Records; he then edited LPs for Warner Bros. and Reprise in 1971-72.
Milsap moved to Nashville in 1972 and performed at “The King of the Road”, an industry hangout. In 1973, he began a long-term partnership with RCA Records. With the assistance of publisher and producer Tom Collins, Millsap began producing country songs, including “I Hate You” and “The Girl Who Was Waiting at the Dining Table” (1973).
In 1974, he won the 1974 Grammy Award for his top performance of Kris Kristofferson’s song “Please Don’t Tell Me the End of the Story.” Despite the variety of Millsap’s work, the No. 1 hits “Pure Love” (1974) and “Daydream About Night Things” (1975) positioned him as a spread of positive, fast-paced love songs By.
The hit continued in 1976 (when Milsap also joined the Grand Ole Opry) with “What Happens When the Sun Sets” and the Grammy Award-winning “(I Am) Standing By My Woman.” The singer broke the pop charts in 1977-78 with “It’s Almost Like a Song” and other No. 1 hits. At the CMA’s Male Singer of the Year in 1974, 1976 and 1977, he was the organization’s 1977 Artist of the Year.
Millsap had 42 top 10s between 1976 and 1991, including “Back on My Mind Again” (1978-79), “I Won’t Miss It for the World” (1981-82) and 1981’s “There’s No Gettin” ‘Over Me’ (another Grammy winner). 1985’s “Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)” – a reinterpretation of 1956 The Five Satin Hits – showcased Millsap’s R&B roots and won his fourth and fifth Grammys.
Milsap established his Ronnie Milsap Foundation for the visually impaired in 1985 and maintains a grueling schedule of recordings, TV appearances and touring. He established his own studio and organized a publishing company with business partner Rob Galbraith. The hits keep coming. “Snap Your Fingers” (1987) reenacted the 1962 Joe Henderson R&B hit, and Milsap-Kenny Rogers’ duet “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine” in 1987, earning the two country pop champions a Glee Beauty Award. Millsap followed the dance pop hit “Button Off My Shirt” (1988) with the hillbilly album Stranger Things Have Happened (1989).
Even though country radio accepted line dance material, Millsap was successful in 1992, but he signed with Liberty Records and released True Believer (1993) with only modest success. In 1995, he opened his Ronnie Milsap Theater in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and previously opened a restaurant in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (both closed). Singles released in 2000 and 2004 failed to gain traction on country radio.
By contrast, Just for a Thrill (Image Entertainment, 2004), a series of standards, showed another side of Milsap, who in 2006 renewed his RCA contract with Keith Stegall’s My Life. That same year, Millsap was selected as one of the inaugural inductees to the All-Genre Music City Walk of Fame. A 2007 tour with George Strait and Taylor Swift kept Millsap’s name in the public eye, as did the CD reissue of his RCA album. In 2009, EMI Christian Music Group released two of his CDs, Then Sing My Soul: 24 Favorite Hymns and Gospel Songs.